Oddjects No.1

I’ve been running my mystery object for over three years now and I’ve decided to add another kind of post in order to share some of the odd and interesting objects that I come across as I work in the collections of the Horniman Museum.

To share these specimens I’ve chosen the name ‘Oddjects’ as a portmanteau of ‘Odd’ and ‘Objects’. Here’s the first:


This happens to be a Wolffish (Anarhichas sp.) specimen that was a mystery object back in 2010, but here I just want to use the specimen to capture the imagination and spark discussion rather than provide much in-depth interpretation.

What does this make you think of?

I hope you enjoy the Oddjects I plan to share – if you do I would heartily recommend also checking out the Twitter and Tumblr feeds for the Horniman’s collections review projects as they also share some great objects.

Friday mystery object #168 answer

On Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:

As I suspected, the distinctive shape of the skull makes this specimen easily recognisable as an owl (family Strigiformes). However, there are a couple of hundred species of owl, so there were plenty of possibilities to make a more specific identification.

This specimen has quite a distinctive slope to the forehead in profile view and a very clear groove down the midline of the cranium, which combined with the length of around 58mm narrowed down the likely suspects considerably.

Jake was the first to suggest the species I think it’s most likely to be, with palaeosam suggesting the other possible option and RH cautiously suggesting both. This skull belongs to an owl in the genus  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #166 answer

On Friday I gave you this great skull from the Grant Museum of Zoology to identify:

A big list of you (Mieke RothJakemcarnall, Anthony wilkes, 23thorns, Cam Weir, henstridgesj, Rhea, leigh and Robin) managed to work out what this specimen was from and there were some really interesting explanations about how you came to your conclusions in response to Steven D. Garber’s comment:

Now, I’d like it even more if people explained why this skull looks the way it does.

This is a really interesting thing to consider, as it underlies the process of recognition and identification. As a biologist I might start by saying that the lacrimal foramina is on the edge of the orbit (as henstridgesj pointed out) which is indicative of a marsupial and that the dentition is indicative of a carnivorous mammal that isn’t a member of the placental Carnivora as it lacks carnassials, plus the dental formula appears to be ‘primitive’ from the photo ?.1.3.4/?.1.2.4 which narrows down the possibilities to just a few marsupial carnivores, and given the scale of the skull there is just one that fits the bill.

However, if I’m honest I’d say that the overall shape and robust structure of this specimen is very similar to specimens I’ve seen before belonging to the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #165 answer

On Friday I gave you this object from the Horniman collections to identify:

It’s fairly obvious that it’s a claw, but the question is what is it a claw from?

This claw was originally identified as being from a big cat of some kind, but it isn’t the right shape. A big cat claw has a thicker body with an acute sharp point – as with this Tiger claw:

Although different from the Tiger claw, the mystery claw has several similarities – mostly the fact that it’s laterally flattened. This suggests it’s from a mammal since birds have more rounded talons, as mentioned by henstridgesj. The mystery claw has a strong and long curve, that looks like an adaptation for climbing. The large size narrows it down to just a few possibilities and the little bump in the middle of the inside edge is quite distinctive.

There is a handy picture with a variety of claws that Carlos G found, which proved to be useful:

Robin and Carlos G managed to get it down to the right family and palaeosam and henstridgesj identified it to species. It’s the claw of an  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #164 answer

On Friday I gave you this object to identify:

It was a bit of a tricky one, since a few vertebrae aren’t a huge amount to go on. However, the large size helps narrow it down, as do the distinctively long neural spines.

As Ric Morris and henstridgesj spotted, the vertebrae are very compressed, not providing much scope for movement, suggesting an animal that relies on a rigid backbone for support and transferring large forces. This is not something you see in whales (at least not after the cervical and first few thoracic vertebrae), since water supports their weight and they maintain some flexibility in their spine for changing their orientation in the water when swimming. That leaves us with very few terrestrial mammals big enough to have vertebrae of this size – particularly considering that these vertebrae are from a juvenile animal.

The neural spines are long, but not laterally flattened. This suggests that they are not from a large Buffalo, Hippopotamus or Rhinoceros, since all of these animals have their neural spines orientated as a dorsal blade. The only animal of the right size that has dorso-ventrally flattened neural spines in the mid-thoracic region (that I’m aware of) is the  Continue reading

Friday mystery object #163 answer

On Friday I gave you this object from the collections of the Horniman Museum to identify:

The specimen had lost its label at some point in the past, so I had to identify it myself and was hoping to get your opinion on what it might be.

When I first saw it I noticed an odd scar running diagonally across the top of the cranium, which made me wonder if it was some kind of marine bird with an odd salt glad. Then I realised that the scar indicated something else entirely, which gave me the clue I needed to make the identification.

It seems that most of you also noticed the scar and came to similar conclusions, so  23thorns, cackhandedkate, Ric Morris, Jake and Steven D. Garber all recognised it as a woodpecker of some sort and given the length of the skull rachel and henstridgesj arrived at the same conclusion about species as I did, which is the  Continue reading